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Adequate research on GMOs needed

The issue has been complicated by the lack of adequately trained manpower, equipment and laboratories to detect the presence of GMOs in the imports.

Most GMO products are not labelled.

It is Government policy tom prevent the importation of GMOs except in cases meant to avert food shortages caused by drought and floods.

The Secretary for Science and Technology Development, Professor Francis Gudyanga, said it is the task of the National Biotechnology Authority (NBA) to detect the presence of the GMOs in imports at all of the country’s entry points.

“There is a provision that GMO’s should come in milled form. However, in this case of imported GMO grain, NBA should supervise its milling. In addition, all GMO products are supposed to be labelled to allow for consumer choice,” he said.

South Africa, which produces GMO maize, cotton and soya beans and does not distinguish GMOs from non-GMOs, is responsible for most of Zimbabwe’s GMO imports.

Professor Gudyanga said the harmful effects of GMOs are not yet fully known since they have been around for less than 20 years, a period not long enough to provide conclusive evidence concerning their effects on health and the environment.

He said Government adopted a threshold level of one percent for technically unavoidable presence of GMOs in food and feed.

All products with less than one percent GM traces are not regarded as GMOs. The one percent threshold is the de facto international standard for labeling GM products.

Recently, the Government imposed a ban on all GMO imports because of the commercial threat they pose to locally-produced products.

The Poultry Producers association of Zimbabwe noted that chicken fed by GMO feed lands on the Zimbabwean market at costs well below local production costs.

The association also observed that the imported chicken was cheap because the cost of GMO maize used to feed the birds in South Africa and Brazil is around $160 per tone while Zimbabwe’s GMO free maize can cost up to $325 per tone. Subsequently, consumers tend to shun the expensive locally- produced chickens.

Another cause of concern is that the imported chicken was found to contain very high levels of brine or salt solution accounting for significant percentage of the chicken’s weight.

The Department of Veterinary Services has since put in place a piece of legislation that makes it mandatory for all imported chicken to have a maximum of 15% brine solution.

GMOs present a significant threat to humans. In a book entitled “Seeds of Destruction: The hidden agenda”, a leading researcher, Frederick William Engdahl, says GMOs are harmful to human beings in a number of ways.

He says the United States and four Aglo-American agri-business giants  plan to dominate  the world by patenting animal and vegetable  life forms to gain world wide control of the market and  make it all GMO there by using  it as weapon to reward  friends to punish enemies .

Citing food as powerful weapon, Engdahl predicts a situation where by weaker nations are coerced into giving up their raw materials, or face starvation.

Other problems associated with GMOs, according to Engdahl, include udder inflammation mastitis among dairy cows and deformed calves born from parents that consume GMO milk in that country .The impact of the milk to those who consumed it remains unknown.

In a paper entitled “Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods,” Steven Lendman Says massive changes occur in the natural functioning of genes in plants which are genetically modified.

Native genes can be mutated, deleted and permanently turned off. The inserted gene can become truncated, fragmented mixed with other genes, inverted or multiplied and the GMO protein it produces may have unintended characteristics.

The National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe, NBA, chief executive officer, Mr Abisai Mafa said his organization has put in place appropriate legal, institutional and administrative arrangements for the safe and responsible application  of genetic modification. These are in the form of an Act of Parliament, the National Biotechnology authority Act, which empowers the authority to evaluate and approve the importation, exportation and research on the development, contained use, release and marketing of GMO products.

Mr Mafa said in 2002, Government came up with an interim policy provision to import GMOs for use as food as it became apparent that the country was going to import food from GMO producing countries.

“The Government came up with several interim policy provisions. One of them was to empower the NBA to authorize the import and use of GMOs for use as food as well as to ensure that such GMOs shall come in milled form or else the milling is supervised by NBA. The policy stipulates that all GM products are labelled to allow for the consumer choice and the import and use of GM stock feeds.”

He said over the past years, Government has conducted field trials on GM crops and is also conducting ongoing research on GMOs in laboratories. These laboratories are registered and periodically audited.

Mr Fred Chinyavanhu, Deputy Director at the Government Analyst Laboratory said they have been working hard to ensure that the policy of the Government on banning GMO imports is enforced since a lot of people fear the unknown. The fear of developing diseases such as incurable cancers or giving birth to deformed children is rife.

Unfortunately, the country does not have enough resources to ensure that all the food imports are GMO free.

“We cannot deny that GMO foods have been finding their way into the country through food donations. While there has been a call for all foodstuffs entering the country to be milled form, there is no way we can ban beans and peas. Some people have been planting the donated grain and we do not know its impact on the environment,” said Mr Chinyavanhu.

He said GMO foodstuffs from South Africa and Mozambique were entering the country because of lack of adequate manpower at the ports of entry to monitor such imports.

“As a result the country has had an influx of products like the big chickens in shops. Most of them come from Brazil and South Africa. They contain brine and salt solution. Normally they are supposed to contain 17 to 18 percent salt and water but on the contrary those with an excess of 30 percent solution enter because of policy loopholes,” he said.

“There should be regular inspections at borders, in shops, backyard businesses and all the places where food is donated. However, different authorities have different bodies they report to and so there is no standard penalty for offenders. In many cases those who are responsible for inspections complain that they do not have adequate resources to carry out their duties.”

Mr Chinyavanhu said currently the Government Analysts Laboratory in Harare is overwhelmed with the task of serving the country. It is not all bad news for GMOs though.

The Chairman of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences, Professor Christopher Chetsanga, has been advocating for Zimbabwe to consume and grow GMOs. He said it is important to identify the good and bad elements about GMOs adding that further testing of GMO crops enshrouded with uncertainty should be carried out.

“I’m for GMOs and I feel that as a country we are just playing a losing game. I have been in America were a lot of money has been poured into GMO research and they continue to allow GMOs to flourish,” he said.

He added that South Africa has adopted a 50 percent production policy of GMOs. The country has conducted extensive research and developed its maize to give high yields per hectare. It is more expensive to produce non-GMO maize per hectare in Zimbabwe yet in South Africa higher GMO yields are realized at a lower cost.

“GMO maize is cheaper to grow than the traditional varieties. Herbicides are just applied once in a field with GMO crops there by cutting labor cost,” Prof Chetsanga said.

He said Zimbabwe has been using some GMO-based medicine especially insulin, for quite some time now and yet no side effects has been observed. On the other hand, as a country continues to face challenges of food security because of droughts, floods and disease outbreaks, GMOs have been helpful.

“False claims are being floundered about GMOs. I have conducted several researches and it’s unfounded that GMOs are harmful. Some people just want to block the importation of GMOs,” he said.

Dr Dahlia Garwe of the Tobacco Research Board concurs with Prof Chetsanga. She says there is no scientific evidence proving that GMOs are harmful adding that Zimbabwe has since adopted GMOs in medicine.

“You cannot go around telling people that GMOs are harmful without concrete evidence. We have been using insulin in most of our medicines but we have not yet seen the harm. I think what is important is to label all GMO products so that people make informed choices,” she said.

Mr Edison Sibanda, a senior research scientist in Food and Biomedical Technology Institute and South Africa has GMOs on the market such as Roundup Ready which is a line of gene-modified seeds that inoculate plants against herbicide called Roundup that kills all plants.

Some of the brands are white maize Yieldgard DKC 78-15 B, soya beans roundup Ready AG 6101 and the Bt-maize and Bt-cotton. All these varieties contain insect-killing genes that come from the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis. In most crops, GMOs have reduced maturation time, increased yields, stress tolerance, improved resistance to diseases, pests and herbicides.

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